After the frenzies of Arsenal, an interlude out of Chekhov or Twain: Surrounded by bountiful Nature (blank skies filling three-quarters of the screen, shimmering apples about to drop from their branches, sunflowers roughly the size of a maidenís head), a smiling geezer is at peace with mortality. ("Let me know where you are over there," asks the scratchy chum by his side, "in heaven or hell.") Agrarian collectivization is Aleksandr Dovzhenkoís subject, the new tractor is just the mythical-modernist beast -- revived with a radiator full of piss and vinegar -- needed to knock down the Ukrainian villageís fences. Wheat crops just about vibrate for the camera, the progression from open field to bakery suggests a world ecstatically shared with the elements, "operare est orare." (Vidor in Our Daily Bread and BuŮuel in Viridiana analyze the montage quite tellingly.) "They donít give medals to oxen," the old farmer meanwhile presses his ear to the soil covering his friendís grave, a Fordian staple. The collectiveís prosperity infuriates the rich kulaks, the young chairman (Semyon Svashenko) is the sacrificial lamb, suddenly struck by a bullet in the middle of a midnight jig at a crossroads. (A famous, magical sequence, approached perhaps only by the trampís death midway through Au Hasard Balthazar.) The priest is banned, the funeral is a proud pagan rite: "We'll sing new songs of the new life," declares the fallen comradeís father (Nikolai Nademsky). Lustrous and granular, Dovzhenkoís vision is one of pantheistic juxtapositions and cycles of renewal, where cosmic concerns crack the cement of propaganda: The martyrís corpse caressed by tree leaves, vengeful praying drowned out by cathartic choruses, the fiancťís frantic grief yielding to the cry of the newborn. A proto-Tarkovsky downpour answers the sea of upturned faces, the miserable kulakís (Pyotr Masokha) confession goes unheard. Dovzhenko's grave and jubilant landmark, an elegy for the very terrain that Stalin would soon drench with blood. Cinematography by Daniil Demutsky. With Yuliya Solntseva, Yelena Maksimova, Stepan Shkurat, and Ivan Franko. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce